Guest Column: Community has opportunity to grow every day

Published 9:00 am Sunday, December 4, 2016

Live United by Ann Austin

What does it mean to live in a community?

Sometimes, perhaps too often, we take our community for granted. We expect the people we see every day to be there tomorrow and the conditions we wake up to will be much the same as they were the day before.

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One definition of community is: A group of people living in the same place or having particular characteristics in common. Though it’s accurate, I believe this is too limited an understanding of community.

Ann Austin

Ann Austin

When we think of the community we want to live in, we could focus on the structures, the systems in place for maintaining infrastructure or the parks and recreation opportunities — or we could examine the quality of relationships that exist.

There is another definition of community: A feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests and goals.

This kind of community is more challenging, especially as we become aware of how diverse the attitudes and goals of our neighbors appear to be.

I started to re-read “Where Do We Go From Here,” by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. This book, at this time in our history, is cathartic. There are so many similarities and challenges to MLK’s 1967, to what we are addressing now as communities.

In this book, MLK coined the term “the line of progress is never straight.”

No, rather, it is curved and punctuated with missing parts and jagged in some places — so that we get cut and may never truly heal.

Human beings are complicated — we often create our own drama. But we are also capable of great things — we must remember this and have faith in each other.

We would be remiss if we chose to disregard the potential of community because of obvious or potential conflict. We can’t define ourselves as a community merely because we live in the same location or have similar characteristics. This definition limits us.

We are so much more.

When living in true community — striving for fellowship with each other — we will inevitably hurt others and get hurt — we will form alliances, have alliances fall apart, feel isolated, find new friends, maybe even people we will have connection with the rest of our lives.

We have the opportunity to grow every day, if we choose to take it.

Community means commitment to each other, learning from each other, accepting the pain of our faults and moving past it to find a common understanding. This is possible, if our hearts are open to each other.

We must be brave enough to look deep within and recognize how we are broken and how we need to change, so we can fully engage and move forward.

I highly recommend everyone read “Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community.” It is our choice which direction we take and which definition we will focus on for our own community.

Ann Austin is the executive director of the United Way of Freeborn County.